Mikayla Nogueira lights up my screen as we Zoom, though not because of the green glitter flashing under her cut crease. The Monday afternoon sun shoots through the window behind her, and she laughs as she moves to another seat on a couch inside her cozy New England home, the backdrop of almost all her TikTok videos. This is new territory for us both — Nogueira's videos are usually shot inside her bedroom, where her fans are most used to seeing her. "I live in a bedroom that is the size of a closet," she tells me. "All my videos, you see I'm in the same spot, because that's the only spot I can be in." Now, with almost 3 million followers on the app, Nogueira's TikTok and makeup dreams, like our interview, have spread well beyond the four walls of her bedroom.
The makeup artist turned TikTok influencer recently announced to her followers something she'd been "keeping a secret for the last two months": She had moved into her own place, albeit still close to home. To the layperson, that sounds like a logical next step in your early 20s. For Nogueira, 22, and her fans, it's been a welcome sign of growth, both personally and for her online image. "I rented out a two-bedroom apartment, and that way, I'm going to have a bedroom and a YouTube studio," she says, adding that she has no "desire to live in Los Angeles" with hoards of other BeauTubers and the like. "And that's why I'm nervous to announce this because I don't want people to think I'm changing. I'm not. I'm just growing."
Nogueira grew from zero to 2.8 million followers on TikTok in just eight months. It happened the way most things have in quarantine: out of sheer boredom. On spring break and with her return to her college campus unclear thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Nogueira, a Vine lover, suddenly had unprecedented amounts of free time. Enter: TikTok. When she saw the Catfish Challenge — a viral before-and-after photo challenge highlighting users' profile pictures next to their makeup-free, IRL look — making the rounds on her For You page, she knew she had an in.
"I decided to do the challenge, and I think I posted it in the morning. I didn't know anything about the TikTok algorithm. It's not like YouTube. It's not like Instagram. It just gets sent out to a ton of people," she says. "It was instant. I do remember the exact day I posted the video, and I shut my phone off because I didn't really think anything of it." An hour later, the view count on that video had shot up into the thousands.
She went viral again shortly after her Catfish Challenge, this time with 15 million views on a video about concealing her acne. Unlike most people her age, Nogueira hadn't grappled with major breakouts growing up. That changed when she turned 21 last year. "When I developed acne, I was like, 'This is ridiculous. It's ruining my face. I've got to fix this somehow,'" she says. After tons of trial and error, she filmed a concealer hack that was later picked up by dozens of media outlets and recreated by beauty guru after beauty guru. (She's since set the original video to private.) The trick? Use a sticky primer, let your concealer sit over any blemish scars for two minutes without blending, and apply foundation on top. The gag? She discovered this hack completely by accident.
"One day, I grabbed my NARS Soft Matte Concealer, and I put on a sticky serum, a sticky primer, and then, I put the concealer on my acne. That day, I was using a really full coverage foundation, so I said to myself, 'What's the point of blending out the concealer if you're just putting the foundation on top?'" she says. "Then, I just decided to start putting my foundation right on top of the concealer, and I looked at my skin, and I'm like, 'It looks like I don't have acne.'"
The only part of the video that shook people more than the simple, genius concealer trick was Nogueira's voice. "The way I spoke in that video is not how I talk," she says. "In [the concealer] video that went viral, I used an infomercial voice, which I love doing. I love doing voice work and stuff, and I went to college for radio. I was going to go into the radio industry after college, but that obviously did not happen."
Born and raised in New England, Nogueira has a heavy Boston accent that's both endeared her to and mystified her viewers, mostly because you rarely hear anything like it online. "I have always been and still am very insecure about how I talk and my voice," she says, which helps explain the shock Nogueira felt when her accent was swiftly embraced by her followers.
"I've been made fun of for my voice my entire life in school and stuff like that, so I didn't know how TikTok was going to react to my voice. I remember the first video I put out using my real voice, and people were like, 'Is that how you talk?' and I'm like, 'Yep.' And then people loved it," she says. "That was a surreal moment for me because not feeling comfortable with my voice, and then having a ton of people be like, 'I love the way you talk' — that's a good thing that ended up happening."
If you follow Nogueira for her accent and beauty skill, you stay for her unfiltered honesty, which, in a realm now governed by sometimes indiscernible #sponcon, is hard to come by. "I have a very blunt personality," she says. "If you're friends with me or if you know me, I tell it like it is with absolutely everything. I'm a very — excuse my language — 'I don't give a f*ck' type of person." In the beauty industry, where relationships are everything and a bad review can get you blacklisted faster than ever, this perspective is refreshing, albeit uncommon. "I've gotten comments that are like, 'This brand's not going to send you PR now.' And I'm like, 'I don't give a sh*t,'" says Nogueira. "It doesn't matter to me. I just want to try something."
Take Becca Cosmetics' recent innovation: the Zero Pigment Foundation. It's a bold claim to begin with for a product that, in essence, is just a blurring primer. Following swaths of eager beauty lovers expressing curiosity over these claims, Nogueira tried it. And she opened her video with, "What the actual f*ck is this? No pigment foundation, my *ss." "I say in the video, 'You don't need this. This is a gimmick.' And then, the next day, Becca asked me if I wanted to be on their PR list," she says. "Brands like honest reviews. They see that and they want that."
Nogueira knows what she's talking about — not only when it comes to telling it like it is. Until recently, she worked at Ulta Beauty to gain a better understanding of the beauty industry and market. While there, she covered prestige products, which meant being trained on every single item — ingredients and all — to hit the shelves in that category. "I like being able to try the products before other people get to try it because that way I can actually form an opinion about it before it launches. And you get gratis at Ulta. ... It's helped me discover a lot of brands I would not have otherwise tried," she says. "I've literally tried every single product at Ulta Beauty. Every single product."
When Nogueira tells me this, I'm immediately skeptical, mostly because, as a beauty editor, I've rarely found the will to even open my makeup drawers while in quarantine. The same can't be said for Nogueira. "Since quarantine started, I have not gone a single day with no makeup. I do [a full] face every single day, and that's not because I hate how I look without makeup, but because I love makeup so much," she says. "I cannot go a day where I don't sit at my vanity for three hours and play with makeup. I need it. It's definitely a therapy for me, and it actually helped me through quarantine."
But while she calls it as she sees it, she's not looking for that same feedback — especially on her appearance. "A lot of people say, 'If you didn't wear makeup, you wouldn't have had acne,' and I'm like, 'You're full of sh*t,'" says Nogueira. "That's not how adult-onset acne works. If I'm wearing makeup or not, I'm going to have the acne."
As popular as she may be, Nogueira knows makeup is not one size fits all. Quite the opposite, actually. "I'm just so laid back to the point where I will use anything," she says. As a freelance makeup artist, she understands makeup's subjectivity — what works for one may not work for the other. And she knows something she immediately wants to trash might look sick on her next client.
As we cap off more than a half-hour on Zoom, Nogueira jokingly assures me she "didn't just quit" her Ulta Beauty job with no plan. With her beauty room in her new apartment now officially in order, Nogueira's career is brimming with opportunities, one of them — a major collab "with a big brand" — coming very soon. Even with grand possibilities swirling around her, Nogueira somehow knows exactly what she wants: "I just want to do makeup. That's it."